Bear Country Timber Sale Environmental Assessment Released – Comment Now!
The Klamath National Forest just released the Bear Country Project Environmental Assessment (EA). Targeting some of the most remote and beautiful river canyon remaining in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, the project proposes significant old forest logging on both the North Fork and South Fork Wild and Scenic Salmon River.
The Klamath National Forest claims that the Bear Country Project is focused on fuel reduction and community fire protection. In reality, the agency is holding the communities of the Salmon River hostage by tying damaging commercial logging activities in extremely remote locations, to ingress/egress work, community fire protection, prescribed fire and the thinning of vast unnatural tree plantations created by the Forest Service after the 1977 Hog Fire and 1987 Glasgow Fire.
Some of the proposed management activities may be legitimate fuel reduction, while some would be legitimate if the prescriptions were altered and/or the commercial logging component was canceled. However, many units should just be canceled altogether, in their entirety, due to their significant impacts to wildlife, the potential spread of noxious weeds, impacts to the Northern spotted owl, and an increase in fire risks associated with large tree and canopy removal, chaparral degradation, overzealous oak woodland thinning and new road construction.
The Klamath National Forest has proposed 4,195 acres of commercial logging: 3,704 acres in natural stands, not plantations. It has also proposed 5.2 miles of commercial roadside hazard logging 300′ from existing roads. Of this total, 2,330 acres of the commercial logging and 3.8 miles of “roadside hazard” logging are located in Late Successional Reserve forest, specifically set aside for the protection of the Northern spotted owl and its habitat.
The proposed logging would eliminate or “remove” 235 acres of nesting, roosting and foraging (NRF) habitat for the Northern spotted owl and an additional 701 acres of foraging habitat. These include impacts to eight Northern spotted owl home ranges, including one of the only pairs documented to be effectively reproducing on the Klamath National Forest.
The project includes no diameter limit, heavy canopy removal, and so-called “strategic” fuel management areas where it appears nearly all snags will be removed. The project would also authorize the creation of 19 new log landings, the reconstruction of 15 miles of so-called “temporary roads,” and the creation of an additional 5 miles of new “temporary” road in the project area. Adding to the disturbance in the area, 1,735 acres are proposed for ground-based tractor yarding, which would heavily degrade soil resources, spread noxious weeds and impact hydrology.
The project would also include mastication on up to 2,271 acres and across 24.4 miles of remote ridgeline. Mastication involves literally shredding native vegetation with massive rotating cutters mounted to large soil damaging machines. In this application, it would be utilized to shred young conifer trees, hardwoods and chaparral species. This activity does not reduce fuel loading, but instead, simply redistributes the fuel, as it dries into kindling on the forest floor. Research shows that mastication can increase fire residence time, soil heating, and post-fire mortality during both prescribed fires and wildfire events. Mastication often encourages the spread of noxious weeds, in particular non-native annual grasses such as cheatgrass and medusahead that tend to create additional fire risks and impact ecosystem integrity. Despite lip service in the Bear Country Environmental Assessment (EA), this activity is not ecological restoration or meaningful fuel reduction, and can instead more accurately be described as habitat degradation.
Additionally, the project also includes proposals to reopen and make permanent numerous dozerlines that were built, rehabilitated and abandoned during previous fire suppression efforts. The EA is calling these “strategic control features.” These dozerlines are a significant environmental impact and a lasting legacy of previous fire suppression activities. At the time of their creation, these dozerlines were built as an emergency or temporary wildfire containment features, not as permanent features on the landscape. This proposal would allow large excavators to drive out these formerly rehabilitated firelines to create burn piles and either repair or create drainage structures along the former dozerline.
If drainage improvements and vegetation removal is necessary in these areas, this activity could be far more effectively achieved through low impact means, such as manual non-commercial thinning of the dense vegetation created by initial dozerline creation. Handcrews could also be utilized to restore effective waterbars or drainage structures, which should have already been created during fireline rehabilitation after the wildfire. The use of heavy equipment, the compaction of soils and the repeated disturbance of these areas will unnecessarily spread noxious weeds, damage recovering soils, increase soil compaction, accelerate soil erosion and concentrate runoff during significant rain events.
My previous blog post, documents unit by unit stand conditions within portions of the proposed Bear Country Timber Sale. While conducting timber sale monitoring efforts in the area, we identified numerous old-growth and old forest logging units scattered throughout the project area. Logging these units would degrade Northern spotted owls habitats, Late Successional Reserve forest, and the Wild and Scenic Salmon River. Logging prescriptions would also increase local fire risks by removing large, fire resistant trees, drastically reducing canopy cover, increasing wind speeds, drying out forest stands, and encouraging the development of dense understory growth that is far more accessible to wildfire than the large, green trees removed in the timber sale.
Evidence from so-called forest health thinning units across the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains demonstrates that commercial logging often does not positively influence forest health; instead, the removal of key habitat elements such as large trees, standing snags, large wood recruitment and other habitat structures reduces forest health and degrades habitat values. Extensive commercial thinning treatments have been documented in the similarly dry forests of the Applegate Valley on Medford District BLM lands, to increase bark beetle mortality and overstory loss.
The beautiful Salmon River watershed and the remote communities scattered throughout the area deserve better. The Bear Country Timber Sale is a damaging commercial logging proposal, not a responsible restoration project. Although some portions of the project are commendable, commercial logging, mastication, and the use of heavy equipment to create “strategic control features” should be actively opposed, and if implemented, will have profoundly negative impacts.
Please contact the Klamath National Forest with a comment on this project and ask the them to refocus this project directly on the safety and resilience of Salmon River communities. These goals are best met by emphasizing non-commercial fuel reduction and prescribed fire on public lands directly adjacent to private residential communities or remote homesteads, and along important ingress/egress routes in the watershed.
Ask the Klamath National Forest to:
- Refocus the Bear Country Project on community fire safety, plantation thinning, maintaining wildfire escape routes for local residents, and implementing prescribed fire treatments adjacent to homesteads or communities on the Salmon River. These activities will increase fire safety and community fire resilience, while the logging proposed in the Bear Country Timber Sale would have the opposite affect.
- Retain all large, fire resistant trees over 20″ diameter throughout the project area.
- Maintain 70% canopy cover in all dry Douglas fir stands to maintain fire resistance, reduce an aggressive understory shrub response and protect Northern spotted owl habitat conditions.
- Cancel all new road construction and road reconstruction. Utilize the existing road network, while focusing on communities and timber plantations, rather than logging natural conifer stands and emphasizing timber production.
- Cancel all commercial logging units in the Wild and Scenic Salmon River corridor.
- Manage the Wild and Scenic River corridor specifically to enhance and maintain the numerous scenic, recreational and biological values the Salmon River is famous for, not for timber production.
- Cancel all logging units over 80 years of age in Late Successional Reserve forest.
- Cancel all commercial logging units currently supporting Nesting, Roosting and Foraging for the Northern spotted owl.
- Do not downgrade, degrade or remove suitable Northern Spotted Owl habitat.
- Cancel all mastication units. If fuel reduction is needed on this landscape, that work can be done manually.
- Cancel all Mechanized Equipment for Piling and Drainage Construction units. Creating additional soil impacts to recovering dozerlines is unnecessary, unacceptable and counterproductive.
Send comments to:
Danika Carlson, Salmon/Scott Ranger District
For additional information on the Bear Country Project and to view Forest Service documents follow this link.